Toronto councillors take baby steps on gender and diversity on corporate boards

Feb. 3, 2018

By Arianne Robinson

A tricky issue came to council this week, resulting in councillors cementing a procurement policy that pays no heed to gender and diversity – at least for now.

Councillors were told there was no immediate move they could make to require that the more than 8,000 vendors the city does approximately $2 billion worth of business with have at least half of their boards made up of women.

A recent study cited in a city report found a “significantly slow” increase in the number of women appointed to boards of TSX-listed Canadian companies.

City council has attempted to find a way to change that, and at its January council meeting took baby steps on the issue.

Toronto council voted Yes to direct the chief purchasing officer, Mike Pacholok, to include in a statement of support in procurement-call documents for corporations to “utilize an intersectional analysis to strive to have gender parity on their corporate boards.”

What that means was not discussed at Toronto council.

“Intersectionality was introduced on the floor, and we didn’t have the benefit of a staff report to explain the implication of that,” Councillor Stephen Holyday told Signal Toronto on Friday.

Councillors also supported a new procurement mechanism that allows the city to collect information on the gender diversity of corporate boards. Holyday was more concerned about the implications of this particular move.

“I am more concerned about the request for companies to identify the composition of their board, and the perception that those companies may have with what the city’s going to do with that information.”

Councillor Michelle Holland (who is council’s Advocate for the Innovation Economy) spelled it out in an interview with Signal Toronto on Friday.

“Let’s say in a year or two from now we have that data and then we take a look at the numbers and they’re still incredibly low, so then basically the onus is on the city to take action on that.

“Should we be continuing to do business, with businesses that don’t reflect our values?” Holland asked.

Signal Toronto asked city staff if all procurements going forward will include a statement that indicates council’s support that all corporations should utilize an intersectional analysis to strive to have gender parity on their corporate boards. A spokesperson for Pacholok responded: “City staff will work on getting the statement into the call documents as soon as possible,” later clarifying, “within the next few months.”